Monday, July 21, 2014

The Omnivore's Dilemma

So on my quest toward healthier living, I've been reading. A lot.  Normally I'm strictly a novel kind of girl, but turns out I can stand an occasional round of educational nonfiction ;)

I read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan last month, and wanted to share a bit about it here (and ramble on longer than I would in a goodreads review.  Anyone else on there?)

A few friends raved about this book, so I took a chance on it.  The author essentially decides that he wants to evaluate our food chain, so he can better answer the question, "What should we have for dinner?" There are three main sections - Industrial/Corn, Pastoral/Grass (this was my favorite section by far) and Personal/The Forest.  I had a hard time getting into it initially and skimmed a bit in the first 50 or so pages.

He spends about 100 pages just on corn - the government-subsidized stuff that now fills most animals' feed bins (even cows, who naturally would be eating grass), not to mention the processed products lining the shelves of our grocery stores (HFCS, of course, but must of the emulsifiers and such are corn-based); and I think we're all aware of the GMO argument these days.  He points out many shortcomings in our commercialized, industrialized nation, and I admit that I am now even more jaded about the USDA and the government's nutritional recommendations, but this book is not just some anti-government rant...

As science has advanced, we are quick to embrace the discoveries and confidently proclaim we've solved the mysteries.  Pollan discusses studies of soil,  and the discovery in 1840 that the chemicals nitrogen, phosphorus, and and potassium are crucial to plant growth, which soon led to an "NPK mentality."
When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one's ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine. (pg 148)
Wow.  I actually stopped and read that sentence a couple times. Sir Albert Howard, an English agronomist, fought vehemently against "artificial manures" (fertilizer) in the 1930s-1940s, saying they'd leave plants vulnerable to pests and disease, and eventually cause damage to the health of the animals and people who ate them. Hmmmm.

But moving along... all this reading has also led me to have a deeper appreciation of this amazing body that God created (even though an attempt is made to ascribe these capabilities to evolution)
The fact that we humans are indeed omnivorous is deeply inscribed in our bodies... Our teeth are omnicompetent - designed for tearing animal flesh as well as grinding plants.  So are our jaws, which we can move in the manner of a carnivore, a rodent, or an herbivore, depending on the dish.  Our stomachs produce an enzyme specifically designed to break down elastin, a type of protein found in meat and nowhere else.  Our metabolism requires specific chemical compounds that, in nature, can be gotten only from plants (like Vitamin C) and others that can be gotten only from animals (like vitamin B-12). (pg 289)
Pollan visits Polyface farms, whose owner, a graduate of Bob Jones university with a Jesus fish on his car, describes himself as a "grass farmer" (as it's the basis of the intricate food chain found on his farm, which includes chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs, not to mention tomatoes, sweet corn and berries). He does not qualify for the government designation of "organic" yet uses no pesticides or fertilizers, but instead utilizes the animals themselves to provide all that's needed (the cows eat the grass and leave their poop behind, the moveable chicken coops are wheeled over a few days later so the chickens can eat the bugs crawling all over the cow patties, and while pecking at it spread the manure nicely on the ground, plus of course leave their own behind...)  This is highly labor-intensive farm, but Pollan clearly admires the ecological system that's been created.

Now let's talk about the culture of eating - mealtime, preparing the food, etc.  America, so proud of its "melting pot" heritage is always looking for the next new thing (not only in food, but also diets!) and never really established its own set of cultural "food rules".  Consider the French paradox - they "eat all sorts of supposedly unhealthy foods, but they do it according to a strict and stable set of rules: They eat small portions and don't go back for seconds; they don't snack; they seldom eat alone; and communal meals are long, leisurely affairs.  In other words, the French culture of food successfully negotiates the omnivore's dilemma, allowing the French to enjoy their meals without ruining their health." (pg 301)

As women have left the traditional stay at home role, food companies have focused on introducing convenience foods, so that even a six year old can make his own meal - and there's powerful marketing telling us that we need those highly-processed simpler, time saving options!
Several years ago, in a book called The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, sociologist Daniel Bell called attention to the tendency of capitalism, in its single-minded pursuit of profit, to erode the various cultural underpinnings that steady a society but often impede the march of commercialization.  The family dinner...appears to be the latest such casualty. (pg 302)
The final section of the book is devoted to hunting and foraging, and this was probably my least favorite.  It was interesting to learn more about mushrooms (and the sub-culture of those devoted to gathering them) but the descriptions of hunting were pretty ridiculous. I was raised in a hunting family, and the vast majority of our meat was whatever my Dad had shot -- so the author's description of  the experience of stalking an animal and shooting just left me rolling my eyes (although I'm sure there are plenty of vegetarians out there who were offended)  He actually does address vegetarianism here, starting with the book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.  Again, this had me rolling my eyes: Singer claims it is "specieist" to discriminate between animals and humans - either we do not owe any justice to the severely retarded, or we owe it to animals with higher capabilities.  Seriously?!?  All I could think at this point was what a ridiculous outcome the belief in evolution has led us to...

So I did indeed make it through the 411 pages, and while I don't regret reading it, I wouldn't exactly call it a "must read."  Definitely food for thought, though. Ha :)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Whew, what a crazy couple months!

Haven't posted in awhile, but things have *not* been quiet at our house.

The most "exciting" news was that hubby spent some time in ICU. Ugh.  Took him in to the hospital as his cold would just not go away, and I was sure that it had developed into walking pneumonia; I expected him to get a breathing treatment, a prescription for an inhaler and antibiotics, and be on our way... instead, his blood pressure was scary high (but he had none of the normal symptoms) and yes, he *did* have pneumonia, but complicated by the BP issue, which was also causing him to retain water.  Only it was going to his lungs, rather than ankles like most "normal" people. He ended up spending six days in the hospital, and at that point we were just trying to keep his BP below 170/100.  He was home about a week, and then we ended up back in the hospital - overmedication caused his kidneys to rebel so the second admission was for "acute renal failure."  He was re-admitted on the kids' last day of school, and this time he was there five days.  I am *so* done with sitting around in hospitals, waiting for doctors to make rounds.  I do want to say how incredibly thankful I am for the amazing friends who stepped up and helped take care of our kids while I was at the hospital.  We are truly blessed.

In other news, our church has purchased a building, and that's another crazy story.  Our congregation has been meeting for over eight years now, the majority of which we've been meeting in the cafe/auditorium at a local middle school, and we have a small office space rented in a storefront... Well, we have a realtor that attends our church, and she was handling a listing for the old Sears Service center in town. She called our pastor while he was away at a conference to tell him she thought it was a possibility for our church.  Fast forward a few weeks, and we were running a super-abbreviated capital campaign in June - you know, the worst time of year to ask for money since people are on vacation and such.  But through yet another miracle we managed to raise enough money that we raised sufficient pledges to secure funding through our denomination, and officially purchased the building on June 30. Wowzers. It needs some reno, but we're hoping to start meeting there in late September or mid October. Super excited to think about actually having a facility -especially with our children's ministry.  Being able to put up bulletin boards, or make copies on Sunday morning -- what a luxury!!

Still working on things around the house, still purging & organizing and I want to do some painting, too.  Hard to believe, but we're coming up on our 5 year Texas anniversary!  We did go away for just a couple days to Corpus Christi to celebrate the 4th, and hope to post a few pics later this week :)

Friday, May 16, 2014


Still a long way to go, but gotta admit I'm pretty proud to have hit this milestone!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sickness GO AWAY!!!

So it turned out that D did *not* have the flu, just some wacky virus.  He would spike a fever each day for several hours for twelve stinkin' days, which meant that our Easter weekend was pretty quiet.  By day 10 he was noticeably better, but still not my normal boisterous boy.  THAT was when hubby came home sick from work.  Mind you, that has only happened one other time in 18 years, and the other time was when his boss sent him home; this time, he staggered in the door (thankfully he was not working in Mexico that day!), handed off his phone and asked ME to call his boss to say he was home sick.  Huh?!  Seriously, to say this was out of character would be a serious understatement. He spent the next 24 hours in bed (missing 1 full day of work, which has never happened before) and then the weekend shuffling between the bed and couch.  Whoa.  Still not entirely sure what he had, but thankfully he bounced back fairly quickly...

And now it seems both A & I have whatever weird viral thing D was fighting - we're feverish, achey and coughing like mad.

Who wants to come visit?

Seriously, though, it STINKS.  I've missed three weeks in a row of church, and rescheduled one thing after another, and I'm sick of it.  And while I may be much healthier overall than I was a year ago, apparently I've not yet developed superhuman immunity even if I am ingesting huge amounts of spinach and other "power" foods.

On the plus side, I've cleared a bunch of shows off the DVR and read four novels in the past couple days.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Palm Sunday

Sorry, I know I haven't posted much here lately.  Life is just busy - nothing out of the ordinary, but not taking the time to sit down here and spill my guts ;)  Maybe in May?

I did want to share these couple pictures from the past Sunday.  Our kiddos sang Hosanna with our worship team, complete with palm choreography. I didn't take either of these, but you can see A in the first photo (dress with the turquoise sash) and I promise D is in the second row on the left side.  They did a great job, and yes, the second photo DOES show them rocking out during the guitar bridge (yeah, our church does things a little differently, ha!)

And well, then we come to Tuesday.  D woke up in the morning complaining that his throat hurt.  I gave him an ibuprofen and sent him to school.  He was mopey after school, but he'd had a less than fabulous day so initially I chalked it up to that -- fast forward an hour, and he's laying on the couch crying that everything hurts.  Fever of 103.2.  Off to the doctor's office we go!!  Yes, we celebrated "Tax Day" not by driving around to random places to get free cookies and/or half price drinks, but instead getting a prescription filled. And just in case you can't read that fine print - it was $15.... but
  Your insurance saved you: $389.89.  OH.MY.LANTA.  Obviously if we didn't have insurance we would not have gotten this, and then I would have had a miserable boy for even longer.  I'm so thankful for hubby's job that provides quality benefits!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Shenanigans

So last week I had posted about our awesome son.  His lively personality helps ensure there is *NEVER* a dull moment at our house...

Yesterday afternoon, he caught me completely off-guard when he asked, "What's inertia?  And is it a property of matter?"


Then a few hours later, he came downstairs with a giant pile of socks that he'd excavated from the bottom of the closet.  He dumped them on the floor, then proceeded to sniff each of them individually and proclaim them either clean or dirty.

I laughed entirely too hard at this activity, but did manage to grab the camera.

In other news, our daughter missed out on a nail painting birthday party last weekend, so she asked me to help her do her nails on Monday evening.  Love that she still likes to do things like this with me...

* * We now interrupt this normal blog post for a mini-rant.  I hate manicures and pedicures.  I don't find them relaxing or fun, I think they're a waste of money AND time, and I am constantly gobsmacked by how much people spend on their nails!  And frankly, I hate that little girls are thinking this is normal to shell out $20+ each week.  I can say with complete certainty that the only manicure party A will ever have would include a basket of supplies from the Dollar Store on our kitchen table.  OK, deep breaths and step away slowly...

On a funny note, we were having a little family chat after dinner last night about how some of the kids' friends are allowed to do different things - specifically stuff like playing M rated video games, watching whatever they want on TV, or staying up late at night.  We told them that we set rules for them because we love them... A shocked me when she said something like, "I think the strict parents are the best."  That is not something that you expect your 9 year old to say.. and while obviously we're not parenting based on their approval (ha!) it was nice to know that she does understand that we love her and those parameters are for their own good.  Kind of wish that I could have recorded the moment so I could play it back to her in the future when she complains that we're too strict ;)

Finally, I share a photo of our living room a/k/a the laundry station.  This is what it looked like 4 minutes before I had a group of ladies arriving for an informal Bible study.  And know what?  I didn't freak out and stash everything in our bedroom.  I knew we'd be sitting around the kitchen table rather than in this room, and I chose to be real.  And know what?  One friend actually told me she loved that I'd left it sitting there, because she felt more comfortable about the piles she had at her house.  Our living room doesn't always look like this (although it has been pretty crazy the past month or so as I've been selling off a ton of unneeded things, and I swear the process of sorting always means it looks 10x worse before it gets better!!) but I'm learning to let people in even when it's not perfect.  Because here's a little secret: *I* am not perfect, and pretending to be is ridiculous and exhausting.  And frankly I could use a few more friends who are accepting of my imperfections -- and what better "test" is there than airing our laundry? :)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Our not-so-little boy...

Our son will be turning 11 next month.  How did this happen?!?  He is a great kid - he's very creative (he's made some pretty awesome LEGO creatures/structures/weapons :) and throws himself whole-heartedly into whatever he's doing.  He's also closing in on puberty (gahhhhh!!!!!!!!!) and is also starting to have more opinions on his personal style.  Right now, for instance, he really wants to have longer hair.  He came down on Monday morning and announced that this bedhead look was totally awesome, and he was wondering if I could help him gel it this way each day.  No, he was not kidding.

Random side note: I love this photo because it's a real smile - I shot a bunch to get one natural grin rather than a goofy "cool" look or a pained grimace.

So back to crazy boy.  As he climbed into the car yesterday, he announces he had the worst day ever.  This usually means that he got in trouble, so I asked how many tallies he'd received (teacher logs issues, and their total count over the quarter basically determines their rating for behavior).  Answer: zero.  Hmmm, I'm now confused, so I ask what happened. He wails back: "They have me down as white!"

(Pardon me while I struggle not to erupt in laughter because obviously this is upsetting to him)

Turns out that they'd distributed the standard annual school report with its summary of test scores and EEO breakout.  He's quite proud that he's a mix of Italian, German, Slovak and Scandinavian - and I then explained to him that just means our ancestors were from those different areas.. and well, they're all European, which means he's *white*.  And he's the only one classified that way in his homeroom (although he pointed out that there are several in his class that "look about as white as me" but still classify themselves as Hispanic even if only Mom or Dad is Mexican).  Holy cow, I cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard!

Anyhooo, he'll be going into sixth grade in the fall, and last evening was the orientation at the Middle School.  I have to admit that it was boring and frankly uninformative - the highlight was the 3 minute walk-through tour (we were in a group with one of the assistant principals, and she at least had a sense of humor: "And here are our A/C units - oh good, you all ARE paying attention!").  UIL (university interscholastic league) is a big deal down here, and essentially it's competitions between schools in various topics... I had to laugh when I read the handout and saw "Calculator Skills" (it's actually advanced problem solving in math, but they are allowed to use calculators in this portion), and then there are also speaking/drama categories. Including "Spanish Poetry Interpretation" in which "students prepare a piece of... poetry to read out loud (not memorized) in front of an audience. Gestures, voice, and facial expressions will be utilized to bring the story or poem to life."  I may have threatened to sign him up for that particular topic if he started misbehaving ;)  Seriously, though, he's having a hard time deciding between choir or band, so is planning to take a survey among his friends.

After we endured all the monotone speeches, I took him over to Orange Leaf for Frozen Yogurt.  I had a smidgen of sugar free chocolate topped with fresh strawberries.  He had, um, - peanut butter swirled with salted caramel, pineapple, and cotton candy yogurts, topped with M&Ms, sprinkles, gummy worms, brownie chunks, and I can't even remember what else.  My stomach hurts just looking at that thing!  Oh well, it was a fun outing, and we even brought our spoons home for A to use as Barbie shovels :)